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Philip Ardagh
Malorie Blackman
Kevin Brooks
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Sharon Creech
Joseph Delaney
Berlie Doherty
Anne Fine
Jack Gantos
Sonya Hartnett
Michelle Harrison
Tanuja Desai Hidier
David Levithan
Graham Marks
Chris Mould
Anant Pai
Mal Peet
Philip Reeve
Chris Riddell
Marcus Sedgwick
John Singleton
Robert Swindells
Nick Ward

Mai Lin Li, reviewer for ACHUKAREVIEWS, interviewed Philip Reeve about the conclusion to his Mortal Engines Sequence.
Read her 5-goldchick review of A Darkling Plain...

Mai Lin Li works as a librarian in West Yorkshire.


In Hester, you’ve created one of the angriest, ugliest heroines in literature. Why did you make her so very ugly and angry?

I made Hester ugly just in order to distinguish her from beautiful heroines you usually find in fantasy novels. Her angriness followed naturally. I think she’s a very romantic, attractive person who’s stuck with a hideous face, so it seemed right that she’d be a bit tetchy. Even I was surprised by just how nasty she turned out as the series progressed, but I hope she never entirely loses the readers sympathy.

You’ve mentioned urban sprawl and the loss of countryside as the inspiration for Municipal Darwinism and the reign of the Traction Cities, but it also makes a hideous kind of sense as the natural conclusion to our unsustainable consumer culture. It’s a terrifying, brutal world that you’ve imagined, but I can’t help wondering if you share a little of Tom’s delight and fascination with these gigantic, awe-inspiring moving cities…?

I’ve tried not to make the world of Mortal Engines too black and white, as I didn’t want to end up writing another good-versus-evil fantasy. So, yes, there are lots of good things about the cities, and lots of decent city-dwellers. And yes, there is something heroic about these giant machines.

You give us an interesting (and rather impish) take on the whole concept of ‘history’, especially the interpretation of artefacts. Preposterous conclusions are drawn from the most mundane objects, while the really important lessons from the past are forgotten; that people tend to make the same mistakes and so history inevitably repeats itself. Is this really your view, or purely for the purposes of the story?

I’ve always been interested in history, and loved museums, which is why they feature so much in the books. The misinterpreted artefacts are mostly there as jokes. But I don’t think people ever learn from history; we do keep on making the same mistakes.

Freya doesn’t appear in A Darkling Plain, but I’m (almost) fully convinced that she is just fine back in Anchorage! In Predator’s Gold and Infernal Devices, unlike Hester, she seemed to gain experience and self-knowledge without sacrificing her innocence. Did you develop Freya’s character to counterpoint Hester’s? Freya is living happily ever after in Anchorage.

I don’t think I consciously thought her up as an anti-Hester, but she deserved a happy ending, which is why I didn’t let her get caught up in all the disasters and excitements of A Darkling Plain.

When writing the four books, did you imagine lots of additional prehistory for the world of Mortal Engines, or back-story for some of the more enigmatic characters?

Inevitably I have come up with quite a few ideas which didn’t make it into the books, both about how the world of Traction Cities came about and about the lives of people like Pennyroyal, Valentine and Orla Twombley. Some of these might eventually be published in some form, possibly on my website which is slowly but surely being constructed. I also have vague plans for some prequels, set in the early days of Municipal Darwinism.

You’ve said that you avoid reading contemporary children’s fiction, but you’re clearly very appreciative of creative work in other genres; there’s much fun to be had unpacking your references to film, literature, popular culture, etc. Which other creators have fuelled your imagination?

I love reading, and also spend a lot of time watching films and TV, all of which have coloured the world of the quartet. There are too many points of reference to list but Mortal Engines owes some fairly obvious debts to James Bond and Star Wars, while Uncle and the Lost Boys in Predator’s Gold are probably related to Fagin and his gang in Oliver Twist. Throughout the quartet a lot of airships and flying machines take their names from songs, poems, other people’s characters, my favourite actresses etc. But I don’t think it makes any difference to your enjoyment of the story if you don’t know that (for instance) Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polkadot Machiney is (almost) the title of a 1960’s pop song. I just used it because it sounded right!

The ending of A Darkling Plain is astonishing and very moving; it changed my perception of everything that had gone before. How did you arrive at such a remarkable conclusion?

As soon as I realised that I was going to have to write sequels to Mortal Engines I knew that I wanted to tell the whole story of Tom and Hester, and of the final years of Municipal Darwinism, so the final chapter of A Darkling Plain has been in my mind for some years. The difficult bit was working out the 1,100-odd pages that lead up to it.

Are you working on your next book? If so, can you give anything away?

I’ve just started working on my next novel for Scholastic. I wanted to do something without machines in it for a change, so this one is a historical novel set in the Dark Ages, down among the muddy, bloody roots of the Arthurian legends. It’s all horses, heather and homicide, and great fun to write. I also have a Victorian space-adventure called Larklight coming out in October, published by Bloomsbury.


© 2006 Mai Lin Li / ACHUKA

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